Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tantrums!


When you have twins, tantrums can sometimes happen in stereo. Two children, screaming bloody murder over seemingly inconsequential things such as being put down when they wanted to be carried, can be overwhelming. Tantrums happen with every child, but with twins there can be added complications.

Of our two children, it is our daughter who most often throws tantrums. I describe her often as full of passion and someone who needs a sense of control and autonomy. With a child like this one thing you can do when tantrums happen is try to give her lots of places where she can make her own decisions. The more areas where she has some control over the situation the less she may throw fits at other times. Think about how much of their day is decided for them - what they eat, where they go, what they wear, what music is played - there's tons of things. Pick things where whatever she chooses won't matter to you - do you want the red dress or the blue one? Do you want to brush your teeth first or put on your pjs first? Do you want Mommy to take you out of your car seat, or Daddy? Try that first and see if it helps a bit.

As for when they're actually having a tantrum, what I tend to do when one of mine has them is to remember that the tantrum is about huge feelings that they don't yet know how to control/express. I try to just hold space for that child by being with him/her. That way they know they are safe, that their feelings are ok to have, that they are not getting whatever it is they are screaming about when they are screaming but that Mommy is ready to listen when they are ready to calm down. With twins it is not so simple to just remove the child having the tantrum.  If I am alone with the two I just sit near the child with the tantrum and tell her that I love her and I will be here to talk when she's able to calm down. At the height of a tantrum kids can't hear you giving solutions. Literally. Their capacity for hearing is diminished drastically. Try to notice when she is beginning to "come down" a bit and THEN gently offer a hug or ask if she wants to sit in your lap or suggest a distraction. Once she has calmed down you can talk more effectively (obviously).

For us, it is actually more effective NOT to leave them in that moment. To me, when a child is losing it, it is when they need us most. They don't understand all of the feelings they are having. Getting angry at them (as you may want to, because it's SO frustrating) will eventually just show them that it's wrong to have those feelings. We have to teach them how to express themselves. For younger children it's hard because most likely they don't have a ton of language, but it is still worth doing because tantrums will continue and having some tools in your toolbox to deal with them is great.

What we have done, over the years, is a combination of things.
  • We constantly try to give them language for what they are feeling. Use all sorts of words - not just angry and happy. "I feel jealous". "She hurt my feelings". "I feel left out". "I want your attention". Whatever you think might be going on for them. When you verbalize what they are feeling they feel connected to and almost instantly the drama lessens. "Connect before you redirect" is the phrase I always try to keep in mind.
  • We try to express our OWN feelings when the kids are around. "Mommy is getting frustrated" "I feel my frustration in my tummy" (helping the kids to begin to notice where they feel things in their body so they can be aware when those sensations arise). "Mommy feels so relaxed now" (as if that ever happens. Hahaha) and so forth. Don't forget to express good feelings!
  • I have worked with them a lot to try to learn deep breathing. It takes some time, but by the time our kids were 3 years old, if they are wailing away I can now say "you need to calm you body down, can you take a deep breath?" and they most often were able to start doing it. Deep breathing is an amazingly effective tool for calming not just THEIR bodies but yours as well! 
  • Help them calm down by creating a "cool down" place. I don't like to use time outs as a punishment (everyone has different ways of looking at this issue - this is just what works for us). Instead, I am working with the kids to let them know that everyone (even adults) have times when emotions are really big and they need to cool down. When they are getting really worked up and headed towards a tantrum I try to catch them and say that I notice they are having a hard time and do they feel like they need a cool down. Sometimes they say no, but sometimes they agree and we head off to "Alaska". They picked a place that is "very, very cold" (Hence, they called it Alaska) and decorated it so it is comfy and that is where we sit to "cool down". I go with them if it's possible, sometimes they want to go alone (usually they want me). We just sit together and they chill out. When they're ready to return usually things have passed.
These are all just ideas. Some may work. Some not. I'm sure there's a ton I've left out. Our daughter went through a phase of tantrums and then they seem to have gone away. For the time being anyway. :-) It's tough to deal with, but the more language they have to express themselves, the better.


Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach
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